DUBAI — Clashes erupted Tuesday morning in Yemen just minutes after a ceasefire deal took effect in the country’s flashpoint port city of Hodeida, a pro-government official said.
The official told AFP that sporadic clashes in the east of the Red Sea city - whose port serves as a crucial gateway for humanitarian aid - are ongoing despite a truce deal that was to be implemented at midnight local time (2100 GMT).
The United Nations said on Monday that the deal was to be implemented at midnight, even though the agreement reached in Sweden was announced on Thursday between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Huthi rebels and included an “immediate ceasefire” in Hodeida and its surroundings.
Shortly before the agreement was to take effect on Tuesday, Yemen’s internationally-recognised government called on its forces to “cease fire in Hodeida province and Hodeida city”, according to a copy of a statement received by AFP.
The Huthi rebels also said they would commit to the agreement.
A UN official, who requested anonymity, said that the delay to the halt in hostilities was necessary for “operational reasons”.
An official in the Saudi-led coalition confirmed the timing to AFP, adding that details on implementing the truce deal “were not clear at the beginning”.
The coalition “has no intention of violating the agreement... unless the Huthis violate and dishonour it,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Residents in Hodeida and the surrounding areas have reported fierce fighting and air strikes in recent days, as clashes continued between Saudi-backed government forces and the Iran-aligned Huthis.
At least 29 fighters, including 22 Huthi rebels, were killed on Saturday night in Hodeida province, a pro-government military source said.
Two Hodeida residents reached by telephone said that they could hear intermittent clashes to the east and south of the city on Monday.
A pro-government military official said that there were sporadic clashes, adding that a fire erupted in one of the factories in the east of the city due to strikes on Sunday night.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) voiced alarm about “the continuous fighting” in the devastated city.
The medical aid group said its teams on the ground were treating victims of gunshots, shelling and air strikes, urging warring parties “to respect the presence of civilians and health infrastructures”.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that the UN was working with both sides to ensure the ceasefire accord was “implemented timely and properly”.
The truce is supposed to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeida.
A prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees is planned and a “mutual understanding” was reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen’s third city Taiz - under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels.
The two sides also agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.
The coalition official said Monday that the agreement stipulated the rebels should withdraw from all ports in Hodeida by midnight on December 31 and that both pro-government forces and Huthis pull out of the city completely by midnight on January 7.
Impoverished Yemen has been mired in fighting between the Huthi rebels and troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi since 2014.
The war escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition stepped in on the government’s side.
The conflict has since killed nearly 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation. But some rights groups believe the toll to be far higher.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned Sunday that “much worse” lay in store for the impoverished country in 2019 unless its warring parties strike a peace deal and head off a humanitarian crisis.
Severe food shortages mean that a high number of Yemenis have been dying in “very dramatic circumstances”, Guterres told a news conference in Doha.
Diplomats said Guterres may propose a surveillance mechanism comprising 30 to 40 observers. — AFP